Are Chinese Mothers Really Superior?

Amy Chua’s article “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” appeared in the Wall Street Journal in January. It included excerpts from her best-selling book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which caused an uproar in the US upon its release.  

Critics slammed the Yale University law professor’s book as an example of “extreme parenting”. Chua has been accused of stereotyping Chinese mothers as “excessive parents” who will stop at nothing to get the results they desire from their children.  

Chua believes that Chinese children who perform phenomenally well in their studies or who become music prodigies owe their success to their strict mothers. 

The book detailed the strict regimen Chua imposed on her two daughters, Sophia and Louisa. Among the things her daughters were never allowed to do were attend sleepovers, have play dates, get a grade less than an A, play a musical instrument other than the violin or the piano — or refuse to play the violin or piano

Instead requiring her children to practice the violin or piano 30 minutes a day as is usual for Western parents, according to Chua, her daughters had to spend up to three hours a day perfecting their performances. 

When her youngest daughter encountered difficulties in playing a particularly complex piece, Chua resorted to emotional blackmail, coercion and even told her daughter  “to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic.”  

Chua’s husband was aghast and asked her to stop insulting the seven year old. Instead of backing down, Chua retorted that she was “motivating” Louisa. 

She continued working with her daughter every night until Louisa perfected the piece and played it beautifully at a recital. 

As an Indonesian of Chinese descent and a mother myself, I followed the reactions to her article and book with interest. 

Two of the most intriguing responses I came across were David Brooks’ Amy Chua is a Wimp and Lee Wei Ling’s Tigers or Not, the Best Parents are Wise. 

Brooks, a New York Times opinion editor, acknowledged that Chua’s book was a “courageous and thought-provoking read”. 

He also said that Chua’s style of “hard core” parenting missed out on the most important cognitive development training that children might learn from social activities such as sleepovers and play dates. 

At a sleepover, according to Brooks, children learn to negotiate group dynamics, manage status rivalries and navigate the distinction between self and group.    

Lee, the director of Singapore’s National Neuroscience Institute and, incidentally, the daughter of Singapore’s founder, Lee Kuan Yew, offered a milder response. 

Describing herself as a highly motivated individual since childhood, Lee never had a need for a “tiger mother”. She would study for her tests long before they were administered and would get up at the crack of dawn on the day of her examinations to go over the most important points. 

Lee’s mother would tell her to take up more hobbies so to relax instead of prodding her to study  

Then again, Lee said, she was a girl. Her parents would not have worried if she failed to excel. 

Her brothers, Hsien Loong and Hsien Yang, also excelled in their studies – both graduated from Cambridge University. Following in his father’s footsteps, Hsien Loong became Singapore’s prime minister.  

Like Brooks, I do not agree with banning social activities such as play dates that allow children to understand social norms. 

I am also not comfortable with publicly chastising my children. A child’s self-esteem needs to be nurtured and supported by her parents – not destroyed.  

Chua’s determination to see her daughters succeed and the self-discipline that she instills in them is admirable. However, each child requires a different level of parenting. 

Chua herself said during a book signing in San Francisco that her methods worked better for her older daughter, Sophia, than for Louisa. 

Family background is also an important factor in a child’s motivation to excel academically. While Lee Wei Ling claimed that she did not need her parents’ urging to push her towards distinction, one cannot help but wonder if she and her siblings encountered subliminal pressure due to their family’s high stature.  

At the other end of the spectrum, minimal supervision of children’s work often results in poor academic achievement. I saw this happen to many young Chinese-Indonesian children who were sent to Singapore in the 1980s and 1990s for an education. 

With virtually no parental supervision, these children, who often lived with Singaporean families, performed poorly and sometimes fell in with the wrong crowd.  

As one of these children sent to Singapore, I was fortunate to have my grandmother as my guardian during the eight years I spent there. Although she was no “tiger grandmother”, I was self-motivated and excelled academically at a competitive all-girls school.  

In Indonesia, my sister and brother also succeeded in their studies – both became the valedictorians of their schools and earned their degrees from the University of California, Berkeley. 

My parents, educated in Chinese schools in Bandung and Medan before they were closed in 1965, instilled in us a love for learning. Always busy with their work, however, they never sat down with us to do our homework or practice musical instruments.  

However, we shared what Chua called an obligation to our parents to do well at school.  Seeing our parents work so hard to send us abroad to pursue our education, we pushed ourselves to achieve the best results possible so that they would not be disappointed. 

This kind of obligation is not limited to children with Chinese parents. They may have “tiger mothers” like Amy Chua who demand nothing less than perfection from their children — or parents who take a more nurturing approach. 

Ultimately, all children should know that their parents only want the very best for them. 

The writer teaches at the University of Indonesia and is the author of The Chinese of Indonesia and Their Search for Identity: The Relationship between Collective Memory and the Media.

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Source : Jakarta Post - http://bit.ly/kfdQvG


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This entry was posted in Child Brain Development, Child Discipline, Parenting & Education, School & Teaching.

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